Dems slam Trump for siding with Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi killing

Senate Democrats are calling out President Trump for refusing to blame Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, despite the CIA’s recent finding that the Saudi leader was responsible.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the two senior Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations panel, criticized Trump on Tuesday after he proclaimed that Saudi Arabia would “remain a steadfast partner.”

“I’m shocked that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFamily says Trump travel ban preventing mother from seeing dying son Saudi Arabia rejects Senate position on Khashoggi killing Five things to know about the Trump inauguration investigation MORE said there will be no punishment for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” Feinstein said in a statement.

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Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist who wrote for The Washington Post, was killed after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

The Trump administration last week announced sanctions against 17 Saudis they say were connected to the murder, but the president says there’s no concrete evidence that the crown prince was involved.

Trump in a statement Tuesday noted that King Salman and the crown prince “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution” of Khashoggi’s killing.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said.

Senate Democrats immediately blasted Trump for giving the crown prince the benefit of the doubt after the CIA reportedly concluded that he was involved in the death based on intercepted phone calls.

Trump stirred a similar controversy earlier this year when he gave equal weight to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 presidential election, despite U.S. intelligence findings to the contrary.

“Given the fact that Saudi security organizations are under the absolute control of the crown prince, there’s every reason to believe the crown prince gave the order,” Feinstein said. “Media reports now say the CIA is confident the crown prince directed Khashoggi's murder. To allow this to happen with no consequences is offensive to every value the United States holds dear.” 

Feinstein said she would vote against any future arms sale or appropriation to Saudi Arabia and called for the United States to sanction the crown prince.

Wyden criticized Trump for giving Saudi Arabia what he called “a free pass.”

“Donald Trump’s statement makes clear that he does not care who ordered the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi,” Wyden said in a statement. “Giving the Saudis a free pass here reveals this administration’s crippling weakness, even in the face of the murder of a journalist and U.S. resident."

Wyden renewed his call for CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to reveal publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded about Khashoggi’s death. 

He plans to introduce legislation that would require the intelligence community to release an unclassified public assessment of the incident.

Shaheen condemned “Trump’s habit of siding with murderous foreign dictators over American intelligence professionals,” calling his response to Khashoggi’s death “a stain on our democracy that undermines the American ideal.” 

“Congress must now stand up with bipartisan resolve to condemn the brutal slaying of Jamal Khashoggi and pass legislation to respond to this and other Saudi crimes,” she said.

Shaheen is working with a bipartisan group of senators to pressure Saudi Arabia to curb its military activities in neighboring Yemen, which is in the midst of a bloody civil war.

Other Senate Democrats joined the chorus of criticism later on Tuesday.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump risks clash with Congress over Chinese executive The Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Trump’s “failure to hold Saudi Arabia responsible in any meaningful way” was “one more example of this White House’s retreat from American leadership on issues like human rights and protecting the free press.”

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts George H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors Democratic senator: US must maintain strategic relationship with Saudis and hold them accountable MORE (D-Md.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, called Trump’s statement “outrageous and unprecedented.”

“For the president to knowingly come to the defense of an individual who it appears ordered the murder of a political critic, is something I thought the world would never witness,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedDem Senator on investigation into Trump inauguration: New 'impropriety' uncovered every day Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force The Year Ahead: Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget MORE (R.I.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, blasted the president’s “unwillingness to stand up to Saudi Arabia” for Khashoggi’s murder as “feckless.” 

He called for the Senate to vote on the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act, which would give the president leverage to press the kingdom to curtail its involvement in Yemen’s civil war and require a report on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. 

Updated at 4:22 p.m.